In his dreams, she always kissed him first, and he was always able to say 'I love you.' In these dreams the soft reassurances, the touch of fingertips to sleeves, the hand placed lightly on the small of her back when he drew her close and they embraced, they meant something to her too.
They started simply. Some form of actual event would happen again; Leon coming home from the hospital, Eugene and Lize welcoming them. Sometimes she would tell him again that she had chosen his friend Loki instead of him, or he was tearing the creaking door away from rusting hinges and retrieving her from a shed. There might be fairies in one dream, and ghosts haunting them in another. The starting point didn't matter.
Then it would turn away into fantasy that had never happened. They ran through the woods at night, in a forested wilderness where no one had set foot for years except the two of them and whoever was giving chase. Sometimes they got away, sometimes they perished, sometimes he was killed and their attacker, like the ogre in a fairy tale, would toss her screaming back into the darkness. Mostly he was alone in the end, separated from her by something intangible: a feeling of loss.
And he would wake up, glad that they were alive but feeling empty. He knew what these dreams meant, she was moving on in life and he wasn't. Maybe he had somehow become a part of her past that she was going to need to forget in able to move on from it all. He couldn't turn his mind off and go back to sleep, so he did what he could to keep busy.
It wasn't something he could do nothing about as who she wanted to take to prom was her decision, and even though that day was swiftly approaching he felt no urgency to decide on taking anyone. The energy at school was charged though: he was one of the few people who wasn't really looking forward to it. Between graduation, prom, finals and future prospects everyone around him was excited and overwhelmed.
He wanted time to stop in a way but he knew it wouldn't. He'd just have to concentrate on his studies like he had promised Eugene, so at least something would come out alright in the end.
Dustin also knew that they weren't really out of the proverbial woods just yet. Until he and Meghan became legal adults, he wasn't going to say anything to his family, and he badly wanted to call his dad at least and tell him that everything was okay. His dad would understand: his mom would scream at him. His brother had probably been sent off to military school already in his place. The thought of him being in the military was a funny one, but it was the future Dustin as the oldest was supposed to have. It was his grandfather's dream for someone to walk in his footsteps and become a pilot or join the space program. His mother didn't want to let her father down. He felt a bit guilty at times that the responsibility was going to be pushed on to his brother.
But time marched on as it often did without regard for the needs of anyone. Eugene was ecstatic lately: Lize was pregnant again.
Eventually Dustin decided he couldn't keep putting it off, and called Jennika back about her invitation to the prom. He was planning on going by himself, and not with anyone. He tries to keep it simple and not personal but she takes it there.
“Wow, I didn't think you were this stuck up.” She comments, obviously offended. She hangs up on him.
Leon was doing well in school and told his dad he was going to be a cop one day, so his dad didn't have to work so hard investigating crime. This was a subtle hint that he wanted his dad to be home more, but Eugene just smiled in his easy way and gave some sage advice: “Don't be somebody you think I want you to be, be somebody you want to be instead.”
“But who am I supposed to want to be?” Leon asked him in confusion.
Eugene laughed with genuine amusement at his son. How was he this old already? “Just experience life, kiddo. You'll never know what's right for you if you don't have any new experiences or try new things.”
He wants to try art, so Eugene comes home the next day with an easel.
He gets along with Dustin well too, but Dustin is good with everyone so no surprise there. Meghan on the other hand is a creature worthy of observation. The kid never really talks to her, he just watches in fascination. She's either really smart, or really dumb, which is it?
“Uncle Dustin, I already know how to count.” The child said in a bored, exasperated voice during his story that evening. Dustin always said yes to read to him, but something was wrong with him lately. That was a book for babies.
Oh yeah?” Dustin smirked, raising a fist and shaking it. “Can you count to five kid?”
Leon laughed mischievously and held up two of them. “I can get to ten,” he suggested, daring Dustin to do something.
Dustin smiled and obliged by giving Leon a noogie, but said it would only last for five seconds because counting was important. As he was counting though Leon started to kick him and shout “Twenty, twenty, I win I win!” Until it essentially became a wrestling match and Eugene yelled from downstairs for them to be quiet.
“Alright I'll get a more difficult book for you,” Dustin acquiesced, coming back with an encyclopedia this time. “Now here's a book for adults. Let's see... Aardvark. The aardvark is a medium-sized, burrowing, nocturnal mammal native to Africa. It is the only living species of the order Tubulidentata, although other prehistoric... ”
And Lean burst out laughing, but he was asleep by Adamant.
Meghan stared at the empty screen in front of her. It wasn't on right now, so it couldn't do anything to hurt her or send microwaves into her brain. She already had to use one in class, but she wanted to conquer these things completely and not be so wary of them. There was a lot of potential in technology and all the scientists she was coming to admire knew how to be the masters of tech. She was not going to let herself or her future down.
Eventually she pressed the on button and dove in. There was a lot of knowledge online; research papers, conspiracy theories, pictures of adorable small animals and articles about how to find fairies. This could get addicting.
Later that night Dustin feels his phone vibrate in his pocket and retrieves it to an unexpected message. “You haven't forgot you owe me a dance next week I hope?”
He laughs a little to himself. Here was a girl with a pretty face and no substance whatsoever. She had been here at Leon's party and managed to not exchange a single word with him, and now he gets a text like this from her. She was obviously hedging her bets on getting a date for the dance. He wondered what number of preference he was on her list, knowing that guys liked her and she was shallow enough to pit them against each other with a little bit of flirting.
Lynn Oss-Valquist might make a good date, looks-wise (and he knows she's interested in him) but that wasn't going to be enough. Even when he had been holding out to see what Meghan wanted to do, he'd never really considered finding a date other than her. He didn't need a random girl to make him feel secure about himself or to prove to other people that he was 'eligible' or whatever.
That and he'd rather go with someone he actually liked than someone he'd like to just look at.
She'd pretty much told him she would let him take her to prom back during Spooky Day, or she didn't mind saving him a dance. “You weren't here for Homecoming, but it doesn't mean we can't have a dance at the next one! Promise you'll ask me first?” She had suggested flirtatiously.
He had given her his number: this was back during one of the days where he'd been given Meghan 'space'. Sure, he did feel pressured to respond to Lynn in that moment, but it was nice that someone was paying him attention a bit. Not that that meant he was actually interested. Even if Lynn was nice looking he could not un-hear the prideful edge that crept up and laced her voice whenever she spoke.
Although a dance could hardly hurt anything.
“I didn't forget. See you there.” He sends back.
Dustin sighed and shoved his phone back into his pocket.
Meghan spent a lot of time on the phone with Loki after school these days, since she'd asked him to go with her. She had no idea what prom was really going to be like and didn't get a chance to go to Homecoming, so he became her resource for social events and eventually he was giving her advice on how to get along better with other people in general. He was a wealth of information, being that he knew nearly everyone in class. “No Lynn's just like that with everyone,” He says of Edvin's younger sister. “She likes the attention she gets from it, that's why.” He finished explaining how the girl went from zero to bitchy in three seconds flat. She was known to be dramatic and short-tempered, usually stomping down the halls on the way to class and commenting about people's outfits.
Once again for days they hadn't really been speaking. Not that this was the sort of thing Dustin wanted to make a habit of, but his thoughts were so full of Meghan that actually engaging her in conversation was becoming a challenge. He couldn't be his normal easygoing self around her and that bothered him greatly. He had no idea what was going to come out of his mouth with the way his mood had been, so his plan was just to wait things out. Not going to prom together was not the end of a friendship after all.
She knew he was bothered by something but was kind enough not to mention it overtly. In the last few days she had made an effort at small talk that he more or less responded to without enthusiasm.
He didn't have anything to say that wouldn't give away his hurt or the depth of how he'd been feeling, and when she was so excited for a new experience he wanted to just let her enjoy it.
“You seem kind of tense.” She commented to him in the limo on the way there. Snapping out of his reflection he followed her gaze and realized that his hand had been in a fist at his side.
He shook his hand out and smiled while managing to not quite meet her eyes. “Just cold. I forgot my gloves.”
She nodded and looked at Loki who shrugged. “We're almost there, you guys excited?” Loki tried to start a conversation. “I wonder what there is to do other than eat and hang out you know?”
“It's a dance, I'm pretty sure you dance at it.” Dustin offered his opinion, once again talking without eye proper contact. He'd managed to make the comment sound bemused more than critical so nobody was offended that he was staring straight out the window as if he was catatonic when he said it.
The ride was a decently awkward and mercifully fast experience. Loki figured that even relatives who got along well fought sometimes, and for all he knew somebody hogged the bathroom or got their finger slammed in a door on accident before meeting him. Dustin was overcome with a desire to punch Loki in his stupid face, even though he couldn't blame him for agreeing to be 'Drea's' date, and Meghan was choosing to ignore his (obviously) sour mood and help him in pretending that nothing was wrong.
It did occur to her that maybe she should tell him later she knew something was going on though, but for now she was internally giddy, her head full of the exciting concept that school could be really, really cool sometimes.
Dustin played the distance game after that, making sure to get a few moments alone on the way inside the school building where he was free to get started on the evening's eye rolling early. At this point he was just mad at himself for not acting soon enough, for caring too much, for not being able to snap back as fast as he normally would. When they walked up the steps to what was normally the cafeteria building and entered what felt like a new dimension, he had to admit he was glad that he went though, even if it meant he went 'stag'. It looked fun.
The theme for prom this year was World's Fair, and the planning committee had gone all out in decorating things in a retro future tech style. Dustin recognized a few of the props that had been put together in shop club and felt a swelling of pride. People were going to love this. It was so much better than all of the generic 'night under the stars' ideas that had been submitted. This was the theater club's concept that was chosen by popular vote and executed by the theater, shop and art clubs mostly. He had helped bring it to life, even working on some of the electrical wiring, something he was just now learning to do.
He headed inside much more enthusiastically than he expected. Maybe a good bit of entertainment was all that he needed right now.
Meghan felt ecstatic, like she was really alive. The vibrant colors, the pumping music, there was even a bubble station filling the room with tropical scents. She was going to dance her ass off. She motioned for Loki to follow her onto the dance floor almost immediately. “C'mon!” She yelled over the music, beating him there by a mile.
He laughed and walked over, thinking how jaded the other kids were about dancing in public and there was Meghan out there by herself, not caring how anyone saw her. “Don't you want to at least drop your coat at the coat check?” He asked over the music, but her eyes were closed and a happy, euphoric smile was playing on her lips. He danced his way over to her and touched the back of her hand with a knuckle lightly to get her attention. “Drea, hand me your coat I'll check it in for you!”
“You're not the boss of me!” She fired back, grinning. “Besides only losers care about what they look like when they dance. I'll change later if I feel like it.” She saw another kid she recognized from class and yelled to him before he could check his coat too. “Hey get your ass over here were dancing first, only losers check their coats!”
Loki asked Andrea behind the kid's back so he didn't offend him, “I didn't know you knew Derrik.”
Meghan shrugged, “I have no idea who he is I just see him in the hallway sometimes.”
Loki shook his head in amusement at her audacity. “You're incredible.” He responded, and stayed right where he was dancing next to her.
She stared a trend; more people ended up dancing in their full outer wear without worrying about coats; Meghan was solidifying herself as a force to be reckoned with. The idea was simple; fun first, order last. Priority: Chaos!
Dustin was on the other side of the room, having new experiences of his own. Lynn (who it turned out only talked like she was stuck up because she wanted to feel smart) let herself relax and showed him how to use it. “My dad has one of these in his man cave, I've been sneaking down there for years. The banana one is the best.” She said with casual authority.
“So you didn't have a date either?” He asked her, curious.
Lynn smiled. “I got rejected.” She said, pouting a little. That meant there was a priority list after all, Dustin mused to himself. “But that doesn't' mean I can't have fun right now. You wanna go dance in a bit?” She asked in a bored sounding way.
Dustin inhaled a banana scented breath and thought about it. Meghan and Loki were both over there with a growing number of poorly-dressed kids from various grades, and it looked like they were having the time of their lives. He wasn't feeling left out really, he just didn't want to be around them at the moment. There was no pressure for him to be anything at the bubble station, and the atmosphere of the place was great for his current bout of introspection. “I'm fine here for now, you go have fun.”
But Danielle Webster plopped down across from them and started reading a book. “We're on blueberry now,” Lynn told her helpfully.
“So are Drea and Loki like, an item?” The girl asked. She had a great view of the dance floor, which is why Dustin didn't chose that seat. Dustin frowned. He was pretty sure Danielle was in the book club with Loki.
“You like Loki, huh?” He asked her bluntly, and Danielle blushed to her ears.
“N-no,” The girl stammered helplessly. “I just thought-"
Dustin just waved his hand. “It's fiiiine, I'm in love with my cousin anyways, so I don't want to see them together either.” He thought about the words way after they'd come out of his mouth, and started to laugh.
Lynn just shook her head and laughed, all the bubbles coming out of her mouth at one exhale. “You're terrible!”
“Thanks for trying to make me feel better though Dustin." Danielle smiled shyly. "You're alright.”
Dustin nodded, playing along with her assumption. He was used to not being taken seriously by now. “Let's try a new flavor,” He suggested, raising a hand in the air to vote. “Strawberry and Lemon together?”
Lynn raised her hand, and Danielle put down her book with a shrug. “Sounds meringue-y.” She said approvingly, and joined them with renewed spirits.
The music changed and after several dances Meghan finally shed her coat, getting too hot. Loki took her hand and asked if she wanted to try a slower dance. “I never have,” She said uncertainly.
“Now's a perfect time to learn.” He told her, his light touch lingering. Maybe it was all the dancing but her heart beat jumped a little in her chest. “Thanks.” She said, letting him lead her back onto the floor.
There was an expression on his face that she was starting to understand, having seen it on Dustin so many times. It was a little troubling that Loki's face was so close to hers and she knew if she stayed rooted to the spot something between them would irrevocably change.
So she did what felt safe instead and ducked her head to the side to embrace him. This move usually got Dustin off her back. “Thanks for coming with me,” She said keeping her voice nonchalant.
But when they broke away instead of him changing the subject like she expected he wrapped his arm around her waist and started to move them into a shadow of a dance. He didn't say anything and she was mesmerized by the expression on his face. When the next song ended and he leaned in she didn't stop him and his lips brushed against hers in a feathery kiss. "You're beautiful." He told her.
“That was...” She began, but then her expression changed at something she saw in the distance. “Great. Here comes my cousin.” She mumbled under her breath, sure that Dustin had seem everything.
Dustin inhaled. Good thing he's not going into politics! Props to FutureCarrie for making me see the story-telling use of this damn bubble machine. I never use it in my games, but I get it now. It's pg-13 drugs and socialization. Or maybe it's just vapors, who knows? :3
The Encyclopedia Britannica's first word is apparently A-ak, but I don't actually have a real one right now, so I couldn't really confirm what Dustin would be reading to his cousin's kid. :/ I like animals so I compromised and started there.